Movement Has Been Replaced By A Sedentary Lifestyle – Why Kids Need Play!

When I was growing up, I played outdoors a lot. We didn’t have a television because my mom thought it would rot our brains out.  I know that is extreme, the point was we filled our time with going outside, being creative and playing in the creek. There was not much time for being sedentary in my family. We played outside together, worked together, played long board games and my sisters and I made up lots of dances in the living room (and made mom watch our performances). What I didn’t know is that my parents were building my brain and giving me a healthy lifestyle.

How things have changed.

“A UK survey conducted by the National Trust found that modern children spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did, despite the fact that 96% of the parents surveyed felt it was important for kids to have a “connection to nature.””-www.theatlantic.com/magazine

Children need to play outside. It’s one of the building blocks of brain development. When kids play outside, they learn cause and effect. They test their limits. The first physical science experiments happen in our own backyards-

  • when a child throws a rock in the stream and the water smacks him in the face.
  • when a child jumps from a swing and feels the jarring in his knees.
  • when he climbs a tree and falls two feet.
  • when he builds a dam and stops up the water in the stream

These are all brain builders. A child who has time to test his limits, build, create and pretend is growing the logic portion of his brain.

Play helps children teach themselves to regulate their emotions.

“University of Denver researchers Elena Bodrova, Carrie Germeroth, and Deborah J. Leong found that children teach themselves to regulate their emotions and think before they act when they play. For example, if a child is pretending to be Olaf from Frozen, they may pretend they’re melting when they come inside or insist that they like warm hugs. In each case, they consider how their actions will correlate with how Olaf should act in a given situation.”- Whitbyschool.org

If anyone has ever played make believe with a child, you know that kiddos play out relationships. They play Mom, Dad, sister, brother, super heroes, soldiers, or fill in the blank. My eldest used to ask me to play with her. She just told me what to say and I said it while her character was the star of the show (kind of like her). This is one of the ways kids figure out relationships. Often we hear children playing with the same words they hear us using -“It’s okay, mom is here” or “If you do that again you are in trouble”.

Play gives children a chance to practice what they’re learning.
– Fred Rogers

The Scientific Re-do.

When children have had trauma in their lives and struggle with regulation, play can help fill in the gaps missed in brain development. Organized play with a point can help. Acting out a scenario the right way and the wrong way helps a child form new pathways in his brain. This is a non threatening way of doing a re-do. This can be done with puppets or just acting it out. Try acting out the wrong way to ask for something and then the wrong way. Kids definitely enjoy the wrong way, they may giggle, but the right way will stick!

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain - unless it done with play, in which case it takes 10-20 repetitions._ - Dr. Karyn Purvis.png

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it done with play, in which case it takes 10-20 repetitions.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Movement is Important.

Movement in play, indoors and outdoors are part of the pathway to healthy brain development. What a video game and screen time can’t do is amplify time, they simply spend it.

“Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.

Organized play can teach skills and create a new synapse in the brain quicker, more efficiently and with more smiles than just going through the motions. While it’s tempting to fill time with screen time, remember you can’t get that time back. It’s spent on something that doesn’t have a great return. Educational show are great, but actually doing activities together -indoors or out- produce a greater reward.

*This is part of a Back to Basics Series! If you missed the beginning, start here or catch up the podcast here.

 

 

 

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3 Things to Improve Preschool Handwriting

The past week, I’ve had two different people ask if a child’s handwriting sample was appropriate for their age, both for children under five. Both times, the handwriting seemed either right on track or a little advanced. I don’t fault the mothers for asking– it shows good initiative that they are making sure their child isn’t falling behind, is capable of keeping up with their peers, and is advancing at a good rate skill-wise.

That said, I’d like to reassure moms everywhere– handwriting is not an indicator of comprehension. Even kids with fine motor delays can be doing well in letter and number comprehension and lag in handwriting. Current research is actually finding that pushing kids to academic seat work does not improve later academic performance and may even harm it. This article from The Washington Post, in review of a book by Stephen Camarata, notes that delaying public kindergarten by a year has a positive impact on elementary education.

The answer isn’t to stop preparing kids for academics. The answer isn’t to give up handwriting, math, science, or reading. The answer is to prepare appropriately. If your child enjoys working in handwriting or school workbooks, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Go for it! If your child is dragging her feet and reluctant to sit down and work, then don’t push it. Your child isn’t “behind.” You can still encourage learning without paperwork and you can foster a love of learning without teaching them to dread school.

Introducing concepts early is a great idea, but you can do this through play and conversation and reading books– point out letters and numbers around you, count toys animals as you add them to a barn, count blocks as you stack them, group sets of Cheerios and add them before eating, talk about how many are left as you eat. And if you want to prepare your child for handwriting success, here are a few things to try:

  1. Play-Doh.
    Whether you buy it at the store or make it from scratch, spend time with Play-Doh! This is sensory play that my kids are often on their own for– I do not sit and make elaborate creations for them. They figure out how to make their own stuff after I’ve demonstrated a few basic shapes. But I will sit down with them and help them make letters. Form some ropes and shape letters freehand and help them do the same. You can also print out some play-doh mats and laminate them or put them in sheet protectors. Talk about the letters and the sounds as you make them. Let your child’s interest dictate how long you work. My personal recommendation is to always encourage/stay working for one letter past the “I’m done” point. When they say “I’m done,” or start to lose interest, verbally encourage, “Let’s do just one more,” and then do one more. You’re strengthening their attention span and retaining their trust. You’ll lose it and their interest if “one more” always means “five more.” For reference, at three and five years old, my kids can usually handle anywhere from one to ten letters at a time.
  2. Stringing Beads
    While Play-Doh works on letter recognition and hand strength, stringing beads or tracing shapes with yarn (we find ours at the Dollar Tree, $1 for five to six shapes and two strings) will help with eye-finger coordination and muscle control. This is something you can take in a bag with you to play with while waiting for appointments or sitting in church, for the cardboard shapes. Beads are a little messier and might require more supervision. If you have chunky wooden ones, you can use a dry erase marker to put numbers or letters on them and practice stringing them in order or just reading them as you string them.
  3. Mazes
    This is the only one on this list that might actually require a pencil or crayon. Find or make some simple mazes, varied depending on skill level, and start by finger-tracing the path without a writing utensil. Graduate to using a pencil or crayon. And while the market is awash with chunky “preschool” pencils, tiny fingers benefit from tiny tools to learn how to hold a pencil properly. Buy golf pencils or sharpen regular ones down to golf-pencil size to give your preschooler a small, light tool to work with as they write.

Try these things to work on handwriting and don’t stress too much about handwriting ability yet, if your preschooler is five or under. You can keep working and developing, and extreme frustration or dread might be a sign that something is off, but for the most part, developing handwriting skills at this age isn’t learning to write letters. Some kids are really eager to learn that and will thrive even with early introduction. But reluctance doesn’t necessarily mean they are behind. Right now is the time to lay a good muscle and comprehension foundation for handwriting through play and simple activities. In our household, these activities are not done in addition to seat-work handwriting for preschool every day– most of the time, these activities are handwriting for the day.

So take a deep breath. Get ready to sing the alphabet. And have some fun!

 

When you have to ask your child, “Have you been drinking your water?”

I couldn’t go on the field trip that day. I sent my son along with some friends. I packed a water bottle and lunch for him. It was going to be a scorcher. And then,… I worried. I had to be somewhere else that day and all I could think of was my son. Did he drink anything? Did he eat? I’m not an overprotective, helicopter Mom. I’m a realistic one. I know my son. He will save his water so he “has it for later.” He will save his food because he’s “not really that hungry right now”. The sad truth is, he doesn’t know how to self regulate. He doesn’t recognize his body’s own needs. He doesn’t have a signal that his body is thirsty or hungry.

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Why doesn’t my son recognize these needs and meet them? Why doesn’t he self regulate? It all stems from neglect in his first year and a half of life. Neglect impairs the brain. It stops the brain from healthy growth. The effects of neglect are worse than those of abuse. Ignoring a child (and not attaching) is more damaging than not feeding the child.

When a child is attaching normally in infancy, the parents regulate for him. mother covers him when he is cold, feeds him when he is hungry, changes him when he wet, etc.. Eventually, the child begins to self-regulate. He recognizes the need to eat and asks for food. He recognizes thirst and asks for a drink. He grabs a blanket or sweater when he is cold.

The neglected, hurt child does not, CANNOT, recognize his own needs. This is why my son does not drink his water on field trips or eat his lunch. A hurt child needs his parents to regulate for him. Here’s the hard part: we parents may be judged for telling our teen to eat and drink while we are on a field trip. We may be viewed as controlling or the helicopter parent especially from those who believe that kids will naturally work these things out (and they usually do if they haven’t been neglected).

I have one thing to say: we adoptive parents have to get over it!  It doesn’t matter what other people think about our parenting skills. Our job is to keep these kids alive and give them the parenting THEY need, not the parenting their peers need. Take it from someone who knows. My kids have had some close calls because I tried traditional parenting here and there and hoped my children would catch on to what their peers were doing. I hoped they would drink water when everyone else did or eat when everyone else did. Didn’t happen. I had teens on multiple occasions spend all day in the hot sun at a picnic and not drink or eat anything only to come home sick at the end of the day, dehydrated. I once got a call from a friend who had one of my kids thirteen hours away at Disney world. My teenage daughter was very sick and she didn’t know what to do. “Did she drink anything today?” “Well, she carried a water bottle around all day but I didn’t ever see her drink out of it.” She was dehydrated. I called it. My friend made her drink several Gatorades and I gave her husband, a doctor, permission to put an IV in her if he deemed necessary. A few hours later, my daughter was back to her good-natured self.

Dr. Karen Purvis says that hurt children walk around in a dehydrated state most of the time. Our bodies are seventy percent water. Water gives our brains the electrical energy for brain function.

“Just as an automobile needs fuel and motor oil to run properly, a child requires nutritious food and an optimum flow of neurotransmitters to keep brain circuits operation smoothly. A shortage of nutrition or neurotransmitters can disrupt the nervous system causing behavioral and thinking disturbances.”- The Connected Child

Where do we go from here? You teach your older kids who may never receive the hunger or thirst signal properly to have some strategies for life. When my youngest daughter started her first part-time job, she forgot to eat or drink all day. And I noticed the symptoms of dehydration. Muscle cramps, dizziness, loss of balance, serious stuff! So, we worked out a plan. She began taking water, Gatorade and food with her to work. She sipped her water all day. She ate peanut butter sandwiches on break whether she felt like it or not. A few years later, she still doesn’t recognize her body signaling thirst, but she does recognize the signs of dehydration. The other morning she stumbled in my room with some serious leg cramps.

“You know what I’m going to ask you, right?”

“Have you been drinking your water?”

“Yes, and go eat a banana!”

If you have a kid you can’t take anywhere

Do you have kids that you feel like you can’t take anywhere? You have to go some places, like the grocery store or church or the bank, but you dread it. Other optional places, things you enjoyed before you had or adopted That Kid, like the library and restaurants and shopping, you just skip altogether.

Maybe you were expecting it, maybe you knew you were adopting an older kid who might have issues. Maybe it took you by surprise, this strange, hyper child. You just know that once, you were an adult who breezed through errands and now that you have That Kid, you’ve become That Mom– the one whose mouth is set in a grim line, fighting back tears or anger, while this little human that you are responsible for literally sprints away from you to grab fruit out of the produce bins. You can’t leave. You’ve left twice this week already. You have no food at home.

Once, you could meet a friend for coffee but now you drink your coffee cold, in the car, if it hasn’t spilled yet, because the entire restaurant trip was a game of How Many Times Can I Stand on the Seat and Yell About Things I Can See. The one time you went to the library, all the books from an entire shelf were dumped on the floor and he dropped to the ground to scream when you told him he had to whisper.

Clearly, your best option is to have everything you can delivered to the house and give up on friendship until you can drop the kid off at his freshman dorm. Maybe you even have Those Kids instead of just one.

There are many ways to address behavioral problems and today we’re talking about addressing those through play. Whether your child is four or eight, bio or adopted, expectations can heighten frustration for both parent and child. If you have a child who is purposefully and actively being disobedient, that’s another issue– but a kid with sensory issues or traumatic past might honestly have no idea how to go to the grocery store. Last week, I talked about using little toys to work through this with younger kids, but an activity with a wider age range is role play!

For ten minutes today, your bookshelf is the library. Your dinner table, a fancy restaurant. Your dinner prep, a grocery store of cabinets. Your story time, a church pew. You pick the setting. You direct the kids. You clearly and simply narrate what is happening and enforce rules, here at home when redirection or correction isn’t disruptive to others or pointless to an overwhelmed child. Include all your kids and let them model behavior for each other!

Make it fun! Get bags for “library books” and pretend to scan your cards. Make someone the librarian. Use shopping bags for groceries, make a dinner menu for your restaurant and hire a kid or husband as a waiter.

Then stick to the rules. Whisper at your pretend library, stay seated until everyone is finished with dinner, walk with groceries and only pick up items when instructed to.

It’s a game but it’s teaching expectations. It’s working through issues intentionally, rather than waiting until you’re in the moment and helpless. Then, when issues do arise in public, That Kid can be reminded, “Remember, we practiced this. I know this place smells weird to you, but let’s just pretend we’re playing that same game again.”

Playing through situations will feel silly, but the chance for practice and verbal instruction together might open the doorway for conversation that reveal some of the actual motivations behind a child’s behavior. We were just talking here on Sunday about practicing handshakes for church and discussing why our older boys might be reluctant, at church, to shake hands or say hello to others. Adam and I each had theories, but then our oldest just looked at Adam and said, “I don’t shake their hands because I don’t know their names.”

An offered hand at church has led to him squealing, hiding, clinging to our legs, or staring blankly. And he wasn’t being bad– we had no idea that he was trying his best to follow our rules about strangers! People he didn’t know were trying to grab a part of his body and his parents were just standing there– no wonder he had been freaking out! We got a chance to explain the difference between a stranger talking to him or grabbing him, and greeting an adult properly with mom or dad standing next to him. We’ll be practicing handshakes this week, too!

Is there anything you feel like your kids would benefit from “practice” in?

Three Opinions on Play dates

Wednesday I (Kathleen) wrote a post about play-dates for moms. If you missed it, you can catch up here.

Congratulations to Hollie Hart, winner of  a copy of Positive Adoption A Memoir and a ten dollar Starbucks gift card in our facebook contest.

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What do you think an encouraging play-date for Moms looks like?

Audrey:An encouraging play date for moms looks like a chance to talk and drink coffee and go on a walk. I love when I can chat and soak up some sunshine at the same time, especially since I tend to be bad about getting outside on my own. I like the occasional late night excursion, but since evenings are when my husband and I can hang out, it’s more stressful than encouraging if my weeks fill up with lots of nights out while he watches kids. I prefer play dates with one or two moms where we can talk while we let our kids play.

Kathleen: An encouraging play-date for me looks like a coffee date, lunch or sitting out on the deck with a friend/friends and being honest. I don’t do well with small talk. I am drained by it. I would rather talk with someone who is authentic and willing to empathize with me while I do the same for her. Complaining sucks the life out of play-dates. I think there is a definite divide between the state of sharing for caring and sharing to complain. I love to hear other mom’s stories and share my own. And I am sometimes prone to stop and pray.

Amerey: An encouraging play-date for Moms, is a play date that reassures Mothers that they are doing they best they can. A play date at another Moms house that shows that her house isn’t perfectly clean, or that her kids are not perfectly behaved. Also, a time were Moms can talk and be honest with each other about what they are experiencing in they’re mothering. Sometimes it is great to make something shiny, or bake something yummy just to lift your spirits.

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What do you think is the most encouraging thing a Mom friend could say to you?

Audrey:Because I personally struggle with empathy, an encouraging friend for me is one who is empathetic. When I tell her I’m having a hard day, what I need from a mom friend is not just “you’re doing a great job!” but for the gentle reminder about what my kids are probably feeling, too. It makes me look outside myself and what I’m feeling and focus on those around me instead, and that’s so much more encouraging and beneficial in the long-term than a pity party. I know the opposite is true for some moms– they need less empathy and a dose of tough love for their kids, with the reminder that it’s okay to take care of themselves. I think it depends on the person, and for me, finding an emotional opposite of sorts helps me be around people who encourage me.

It’s also important for me to be around people who share priorities with me. It doesn’t mean I can only be friends with those people, but when I’m weak and in need of encouragement or help, I trust advice and comfort more when it comes from people who share the same long-term goals and similar short-term ones.

Kathleen: I think the most encouraging thing another Mom can say to be is “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re doing a great job!.” I have struggled for years to find my place in the body of Christ and serve with the gifts and talents that God has given me instead of being a people pleaser and latching onto whatever ministry happens to be floating by (which drains me). So, an encouraging friend is not upset if I am not following her God-sized dream and supports me while I follow mine. And she tells me so.

Amerey: The most encouraging thing a Mom friend could say to me is, “I do that too!”

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What do you think a discouraging play-date looks like?

Audrey:I’m most drained by play dates that focus on complaining. It especially makes me uncomfortable and discouraged when I’m around moms that disparage other moms or their own husbands. I don’t like being around people who encourage me to indulge in being selfish, and it can be exhausting if our priorities in life are totally different and I’m using emotional energy to keep up or not come off as judgmental just because I’m doing something in a different way. I’m not talking about small parenting decisions, mind you, but life priorities.

Second up, and I’m guilty of this too, I feel left discouraged and discontent when conversation revolves around having or obtaining the “right” material things. I’ve been noticing this more and more in myself recently and I don’t like it.

Kathleen: A discouraging play date is one that I don’t feel right at. I feel wrong. I feel as if my clothes are wrong, my calling is wrong, It’s the kind of play date when no one else in the room is like-minded and they let you know your way of thinking doesn’t match their’s and you should join them. These are the events that sent me running for the door.

I also agree with Audrey, I am not comfortable on play dates that become “bash your family” dates. I cannot stand the dates that make you feel as if you need to go to the mall and buy more, more, more because i don’t have the right material things. Play dates should be about relationships, not material things. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great creative crafting play date! These crafting dates are therapeutic if they are within my budget.

Amerey: A discouraging play date looks like a day were you are trying to encourage a mom or be encouraged and the other mother is being a negative Nancy no matter what is said or done.

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Who has been a great play-date friend and how did she accomplish it?

Audrey: I have a friend that’s up for play dates with the kids or play dates after bedtime and the flexibility is awesome. She’s willing to listen to me without always offering solutions, sometimes she just says, “That sounds so hard.” And that’s enough. But she also empathizes with my kids and notices things I might not and isn’t afraid to suggest things that are good even if they aren’t easy.   Number one: she asks how I’m doing and doesn’t freak out or shut down if I give an honest answer.
Kathleen: I have many great play date friends. They are the kind of friends I am not able to see for weeks or months, but when we get together, we just pick up where we left off. We share our lives. We pray for one another. We are honest with each other and tell the hard truths as well as the easy ones. We celebrate together. We cry together. We grieve together. A friend accomplishes this by being honest and self-sacrificing. As an adoptive Mom, I am careful what I share about my children from hard places. I must have a few safe friend so share with who know where I am coming from. Being part of a support group helps meet this need!
Amerey: My sister Audrey has been a great play date friend because she is helpful and honest with my struggles, she is always open with me about hers, and she has always been awesome in encouraging me that, “that’s normal!”
Please share your answers to these questions in the comments, you never know who you will minister to. Especially when you say  “me too”!